Fear of Failure: Negative Sovereignty and the Birth of State Failure

  • J. N. C. Hill


Two thousand and ten was a momentous year for Africa. During its course Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Somalia and Togo all celebrated their half centenaries. Nearly 400 million men, women and children,1 or around two-fifths of all Africans, in seventeen countries spread across four of the continent’s five main sub-regions, marked 50 years of independence and self-rule.2 Seldom have so many people in so many places been brought together in remembrance of an historical moment that is at once both common and unique. All continue to live with colonialism’s legacies. All continue to experience them in different ways.


State Failure Collapse State Sovereign State Colonial Rule Terror Attack 
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  1. 5.
    For example, descriptions of Côte d’Ivoire, the DRC and Somalia as failed can be found in Thomas Dempsey, Counter-Terrorism in African Failed States: Challenges and Potential Solutions (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, 2006), p. 12, and Robert I. Rotberg (ed.), When States Fail (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2004), p. 5.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Joel S. Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States: State-Society Relations and State Capabilities in the Third World (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 4.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    I. William Zartman (ed.), Collapsed States: The Disintegration and Restoration of Legitimate Authority (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1995), p. 5.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Robert H. Jackson, The Global Covenant: Human Conduct in the World of States (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 296.Google Scholar
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  6. 11.
    Weber defines the ideal state as ‘a compulsory association with a territorial base … [where] the use of force is regarded as legitimate only so far as it is either permitted by the state, or prescribed by it. … The claim of the modern state to monopolize the use of force is essential to its character of compulsory jurisdiction and of continuous organization.’ Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (New York: The Free Press, 1947), p. 143.Google Scholar
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    Robert H. Jackson, Quasi-States: Sovereignty, International Relations and the Third World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 29.Google Scholar
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    This argument is developed and outlined by Jackson over the course of a number of works. See Jackson and Rosberg, ‘Why Africa’s Weak States Persist’; Robert H. Jackson and Carl G. Rosberg, ‘Sovereignty and Underdevelopment: Juridical Statehood in the African Crisis’, The Journal of Modern African Studies, 1986, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 1–31; Jackson, Quasi-States; Robert H. Jackson, ‘Juridical Statehood in Sub-Saharan Africa,’ Journal of International Affairs, 1992, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 1–16; and Jackson, The Global Covenant.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Perhaps nowhere is this wait-and-see policy better highlighted than in Algeria. Concerned that Algeria might slip into the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence if and when it achieved independence, the U.S. government pushed its French counterpart to cut a deal with the National Liberation Front’s (NLF). Paris found itself in the unenviable position, therefore, of being harangued by its friends and foes alike. For an excellent analysis of the impact of Cold War politics on Algeria’s quest for independence see Matthew J. Connelly, A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).Google Scholar
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    Mohammed Ayoob, The Third World Security Predicament: State Making, Regional Conflict and the International System (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1995), p. 78.Google Scholar
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    John A. A. Ayoade, ‘States without Citizens: An Emerging African Phenomenon’, in Donald Rothchild and Naomi Chazan (eds.), The Precarious Balance: State and Society in Africa (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1988), pp. 100–118.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© J.N.C. Hill 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. N. C. Hill
    • 1
  1. 1.King’s College LondonUK

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